Calvados according to Drouin | Part 3

of Christian Drouin 22 settembre 2022

So many ways to enjoy Calvados!

In 2010, the French gastronomic meal became part of UNESCO World Heritage. This is a feast meal meant to celebrate important moments in individuals and groups’ life. It gathers people who practice together the art of good food and good drinks. There is no French gastronomic meal without digestif. By nature, Calvados is part of it. But young Calvados, due to its freshness and fruit flavor, also has aperitif virtues. Thus, it can be consumed as a pre-dinner or after dinner drink. It can even be served during the meal as “Trou Normand” or to match some dishes. It has also been part of many dishes’ preparation ever since. From young and easy sipping to old and complex, Calvados can be enjoyed in many ways: some are traditional others have appeared more recently.

Traditional Calvados moments

The legendary “Café Calva”

One of the greatest calvados moments was Café-calva immortalized by great novelists such as Erich Maria Remarque or Georges Simenon. Café- Calva enjoyed immense popularity in Norman farms and bistros from the 1880’s.
This custom consists after drinking one’s coffee in pouring a little Calvados in the coffee cup: the spirit warms up while gaining the coffee aroma and mixing to the sugar left in the cup: flavors expand while coffee becomes mellower.


The practice of café-calva appeared in rural Normandy in the middle of the 19th century and conquered cities and their working-class suburbs. Both men and women arriving from Norman countryside to find work in the cities would not give up their café-calva, which helped them put their hearts into their work despite arduous working conditions. On the counters of Parisian bistros, “calva” was most often poured directly into coffee. Unless it was specified when ordering, coffee was systematically topped with calvados.

The Norman did not see coffee as an alternative to their favorite eau-de-vie. They discovered an invigorating way to combine the two: “Café-Calva”

A new consumption ritual was born, called for phenomenal success. However, the spirit’s poor quality matched the coffee’s bad quality, as consumers could not afford anything but cheap drinks, and the image of Calvados was deeply damaged from this ritual.

Today, while Calvados has regained all its legitimacy and the consumption of quality coffee has never been so strong, café-calva is experiencing a revival. Bars of Parisian Palaces, most fashionable cocktail bars, bistronomy restaurants, explore with creativity the association of coffee and calvados. Depending on circumstances, you can savor an old Calvados in a tasting glass, immediately after coffee as the latter beautifully prepares your palate, you can add a few drops of young calvados to your ristretto or pour a little calvados at the bottom of the empty, still hot, cup of coffee. You can also rediscover this association in an after- dinner cocktail such as Espresso Martini.

The Trou Normand ("Norman Hole")

"Between each course one made a hole, the Norman hole, with a glass of cider spirit which put fire to bodies and craziness to minds… ”.
Guy de Maupassant, Les contes de la bécasse, 1883. 

The tradition of Trou Normand consists of a shot of Calvados taken mid-meal to burn a hole in the stomach that will then make room for the rest of the courses. The Trou Normand, which enables a renewed appetite, makes you feel like eating more, and has become a festive habit.
With the development of a lighter style of cuisine, the digestive qualities of Calvados that had been much appreciated by hearty eaters are less requested. The traditional Trou Normand is often replaced by apple granita topped with Calvados.

After dinner as a digestif

Quality Calvados found their way onto the drinks trolleys of leading restaurants in the 1980s. Old and complex Calvados are to be reserved for after dinner tasting when the aroma and flavor can be appreciated at leisure.

Quite often, I am asked how long you can keep a bottle once it is opened. The more air you have in the bottle, the more aromas you are going to lose. Keeping an opened bottle a few months, even one year, is no serious problem, but you gradually lose some of the aromas. So, my suggestion is to drink the content within six months to enjoy the best of it. 

Old Calvados develop an incredible palette of flavors. Ideally Calvados should be served in a crystal tulip shaped glass at room temperature.

Pour Calvados with care in your glass, warm it tenderly in the hollow of your hand, run it slowly round the glass (held by its base) and admire its color and the patterns it traces on the side of the glass. It needs to breathe to develop its aromas — wait at least two minutes — before bringing the glass to your nose, find the distance at which you can distinguish the aromas without being assailed by the alcohol. Savor your Calvados, sip by sip. You will note a surprising development in flavor and taste: from the lightest to the heaviest, aromas will develop for about one hour. 

Pairing with cigars

Calvados and Cigar are best friends! Old Calvados is especially appealing to cigar lovers. In 1989, when a friend of mine considered as one of Switzerland’s foremost spirit authorities, Jacques Szmulovski, told me he was a close friend of Zino Davidoff’s, I asked him to give him a bottle of my Calvados Pays d’Auge Hors d’Age to taste with cigars. Sometime later, I received a handwritten letter from Zino Davidoff dated April 3, 1989 concluding: “I’ve tried, it’s wonderful!”
For many years now, I have been invited by top Cigar Clubs throughout the world to conduct Calvados and cigar tastings. The association of cigar and Calvados was unanimously acknowledged to be a perfect alliance of flavors. 

Chocolate and Calvados

Chocolate and Calvados have always matched beautifully as many confectioners have experienced in numerous chocolate sweets or treats all over the world. In Casale Monferrato, Italy, Yumiko Saimura, originally from Kyoto, a passionate young chocolate artisan has won many international chocolate awards. I had the opportunity of collaborating with her in an experiment she put together for Valentine’s Day: four chocolate sweets made with four different Calvados, each blend enhancing specific flavors in chocolate. My personal recommendation is to associate old Calvados with Calvados chocolate truffles.

Fine Cuisine with Calvados

Calvados adding flair to fine cuisine has been a long-time favorite ingredient of Norman chefs. With globalization Calvados is now investing other national cuisines adding depth to simple dishes.

Quite often one hears people say: “It doesn’t matter, it’s just for cooking.” Contrarywise, it should be good quality, rather young and highly fruity. Concentration of apple aromas and lightness of tannin are essential to success.

Calvados has three main functions in cooking: you can either flambé it, or deglaze one pot by adding Calvados to the residue left in the cooking pan or simply flavor a sauce by putting it directly into it. 

The practice of flambéing is spectacular to look at and adds a delicate flavor to the dish. A perfect complement to poultry or pork recipes, Calvados also enhances apple and pear desserts.

Seafood such as gambas or lobster will taste delicious if you broil them, flambé them and top them with melted butter. Blood pudding, a simple and cheap dish, will taste quite different and fancy when flambéed. Flambé one roast duck or pheasant will add apple-like aromas to the skin and flavor the gravy. To emphasize the Norman character of these aromas, just add baked apples and some fresh cream…As for flambé pancakes they are worldwide famous. And so is flambéed tarte fine aux pommes (apple pie) or crème brûlée aux pommes.

Calvados is often used to deglaze one pan and add flavor to creamy sauces. Using Calvados to deglaze the frying pan in which veal cutlets have just cooked and then adding fresh cream is one of the classical ways of preparing Norman veal.

The combination of Calvados and fresh cream added to the sauce gives spectacular flavor to the dish. Adding some drops of Calvados to whipped cream used to top baked apples will make one splendid and simple dessert and nothing can match Tarte Tatin better than Calvados ice cream.

All over the world, chefs enjoy cooking with Calvados once in a while. In Italy I was given the opportunity to taste some interesting recipes such as: Millefeuilles of rocket salad and swordfish marinated in Calvados with stewed apples, risotto with caciocavallo cheese and Calvados, braised buffalo with Calvados.

Veal chops (Serves 4)

  • 4 nice veal chops  
  • 100g fresh cream
  • 5cl calvados
  • 250g mushrooms
  • Thyme
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • Salt, pepper. 

In a hot frying pan, melt half of the butter, add the veal chops, let them brown slightly on each side, season with salt and pepper. Lower the heat. Cook for about 6 to 8 minutes. Then remove the meat, deglaze with calvados, add the cream and the veal chops. 

Meanwhile, in another pan, cook the sliced mushrooms, adding some thyme and little salt.

Pour the mushrooms in the meat sauce. Make sure it is hot enough and serve. 

Pork roast or chops will also taste delicious if you deglaze the pan with calvados.

Cinnamon Panna Cotta with « Calvamelized » apple dices.  (serve 4)

For the Panna Cotta

  • 200g heavy cream
  • 20 cl whole milk
  • 50g sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 vanilla bean split
  • 1 packet plain gelatin
  • 7.5 cl cold water. 

For the apple dices:

  • 1 medium sized Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1cm pieces
  • 50g butter
  • 50g brown sugar
  • 3cl calvados

Combine cream, milk, cinnamon sticks and vanilla in a sauce pan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and then remove from heat. Let spices infuse for 30 minutes. Remove cinnamon and vanilla. 

In a bowl, sprinkle gelatin on cold water. Let it soften for 5 minutes.

Reheat the mixture cream/ milk until it is very warm. Add the gelatin and stir. Keep stirring until the gelatin is totally dissolved. 

Divide the Panna Cotta into 4 small bowls and refrigerate for 2 hours minimum.

Before serving caramelize the apple dices in a pan with butter, sugar and calvados. Decorate the pannacotta with the « calvamelized » apple dices.

Apple sabayon with calvados (serves 4)

  • 4 Granny Smith apples
  • 1 lemon
  • a pinch of cinnamon
  • 50g brown sugar 
  • 50g butter
  • 5cl calvados
  • 1 packet ginger biscuits

For the sabayon:

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 75g sugar
  • 20cl cider
  • 5cl calvados

Peel and cut the apples into 8 pieces. Squeeze lemon juice on them. Bake the apples in butter and sugar, sprinkle some cinnamon. Flambé the apples. Cut the biscuits into small pieces and spread them on individual baking plates. Arrange the apples on the biscuits. 

In a pot, mix sugar and yolks and then add cider and calvados. Keep whipping the blend over low fire until it is nice and creamy. Make sure you do not cook the egg yolks!

Pour the mixture on the apples and keep it under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes to get a nice light brown color. Serve it right away.


Dal Magazine